Columbia 14194-D – “Peg Leg” Howell – 1926

One of the great heroes of the country blues (one of R. Crumb’s Heroes of the Blues, at least) is Peg Leg Howell, a musician holding the great distinction of being among the earliest male country blues artists to make records.

Joshua Barnes Howell was born on a farm in Eatonton, Georgia on March 5, 1888, placing him in an older generation of blues songsters to record, alongside the likes of Lead Belly, Jim Jackson, and Henry Thomas.  He learned to play guitar when he was twenty-one, but continued to work on the farm until his disgruntled brother-in-law blew off his right leg with a shotgun (hence the nickname “Peg Leg”).  Thereafter, Howell found work in a fertilizer plant, and later began running bootleg liquor, which landed him in jail in 1925.  After he got out, an A&R man for Columbia Records heard him playing on Decatur Street in Atlanta, and he was invited to cut a record while they were in town.  He recorded a total of four sides on November 8, 1926, amounting to two records.  Howell returned to the Columbia microphone for a further seven sessions between April of 1927 and April of 1929 when the company made field trips to Atlanta, making for another eleven solo sides, eight with his “Gang” consisting of Howell with fiddler Eddie Anthony and guitarist Henry Williams, four with mandolin player Jim Hill, two with Anthony alone, and another two with another fiddler who may have been Ollie Griffin.  He probably also appeared on two additional sides accompanying Waymon “Sloppy” Henry on Okeh in August of ’28, and may have been the unidentified “Tampa Joe” to Eddie Anthony’s “Macon Ed” on another eight sides; if so, it would stretch Howell’s recording career another year into December of 1930.  Following his last record date, Howell continued to play around Atlanta, and went back to bootlegging.  Howell laid his guitar down in 1934 following the death of his friend and frequent musical collaborator Eddie Anthony, and he returned to bootlegging liquor.  In 1952, his other leg was lost to “sugar diabetes.”  Howell was rediscovered eleven years later by a trio of young blues aficionados and researchers—George Mitchell, Roger Brown, and Jack Boozer—who convinced him to make a few more recordings.  After a little practice to get himself back in playing condition, Howell recorded ten final sides for a Testament LP in 1964, including several “re-does” of his old 1920s recordings.  Peg Leg Howell died in Atlanta on August 11, 1966, at the age of seventy-eight.

Columbia 14194-D was recorded on November 8, 1926 in Atlanta, Georgia by “Peg Leg” Howell, accompanying himself on the guitar.  These are Peg Leg Howell’s first two recorded sides, and his second issued record.

First up, Peg Leg sings and plays in Spanish (open G) tuning on the classic “Coal Man Blues”, his first recorded side, and one of his best in my book.  This was one of the ten sides Howell re-recorded in his old age.

Coal Man Blues, recorded November 8, 1926 by “Peg Leg” Howell.

Next, Howell’s “Tishamingo Blues” bears an early utterance of those immortal words “I’m goin’ to Tishimingo to have my hambone boiled; these Atlanta women done let my hambone spoil,” that have come to pervade the blues vernacular from Cab Calloway to Milton Brown, albeit with “Tishimingo” changed to “Chicago” and “Cowtown”, respectively.

Tishamingo Blues, recorded November 8, 1926 by “Peg Leg” Howell.

Columbia 14222-D – Barbecue Bob – 1927

Up there with Blind Lemon Jefferson in the pantheon of 1920s blues music stands Robert Hicks, better known as Barbecue Bob, an Atlanta native that found fame in the late 1920s as one of the top “race” stars for Columbia records.  Over the course of his short recording career, Hicks waxed sixty-eight sides.

Born September 11, 1902 in Walnut Grove, Georgia, Robert Hicks and his brother Charlie, along with Curley Weaver, learned to play guitar from Weaver’s mother.  While working as a pitmaster at an Atlanta barbecue joint, Hicks was discovered by Columbia records talent scout Dan Hornsby (who also worked as a musician and is known for his association with Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers.)  Taking his recording name from his work, he made his first recording in March 1927, titled “Barbecue Blues”, which may have been named by the Columbia staff to fit his gimmick, as the lyrics make no reference to barbecue in any way.  Hicks went on to record many more sides between then and December 1930, both solo and as part of Georgia Cotton Pickers.  Robert Hicks died from tuberculosis and pneumonia on October 21, 1931.

Columbia 14222-D was recorded June 15, 1927 in New York City by Barbecue Bob, accompanied by his own twelve-string guitar.  The DAHR says that both takes 1 and 2 of both sides were issued, these are both first takes.  These are the first two sides from Barbecue Bob’s second recording session, and his second issues record.  This was probably one of the most successful country blues records of the 1920s.

It is said that the record of “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” was played at Hicks’ funeral in 1931.  The song makes reference to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States.  Beginning in April 1927, the floods caused widespread devastation in the Mississippi Delta, submerging more than 23,000 square miles and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.  The disaster and its widespread effects were chronicled in a number of songs of the era, including this one.  Hicks’ witty songwriting stands out in the line, “Mississippi shakin’, Lou’siana sinkin’, whole town’s a-ringin’, Robert Hicks is singing.”

Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Following a similar structure as the previous song, on “Mamma You Don’t Suit Me!”, Hicks sings of his gal, who drives a Willys-Knight and “doesn’t suit him like his other mama did.”

Mama You Don't Suit Me, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Mama You Don’t Suit Me, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Updated with improved audio on October 14, 2017.

Columbia 15324-D – Riley Puckett – 1928

Blanche H. Bailey, the former Mrs. Riley Puckett, and Robert Puckett, at her home in Riverdale, GA. April 29, 1979. From the collection of Roy Robert Puckett, reproduced with permission.

Blanche H. Bailey, the former Mrs. Riley Puckett, and Robert Puckett, at her home in Riverdale, GA. April 29, 1979.
From the collection of Roy Robert Puckett, reproduced with permission.

May the seventh marks the 122nd anniversary of the birth of country music legend Riley Puckett.

George Riley Puckett was born May 7, 1894 in Dallas, Georgia.  He lost his sight as an infant after a doctor threw salt in his eyes as an ill-fated attempted treatment for an eye infection, and was educated at the Georgia School for the Blind in Macon, Georgia (same place where Blind Willie McTell was educated).  As an adult, Riley’s clear baritone singing voice earning him the title of the “Bald Mountain Caruso.”  As talented with a guitar as with his voice, he sang, yodeled, and played both solo and with the string bands of some of the finest fiddle players of their time, Gid Tanner and Clayton McMichen.  Puckett began playing on WSB in Atlanta during radio’s infancy in 1922, and recorded his first sides for Columbia in 1924, backed by Gid Tanner, starting with the same song that began his contemporary Fiddlin’ John Carson’s recording career, “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane”.  In the 1920s, Puckett was one of Columbia’s most popular hillbilly artists, but parted ways with the company in 1931, and recorded for a number of other record labels thereafter, ultimately leaving him with a recorded output of several hundred sides, solo and as a sideman.  Puckett continued to record sporadically throughout the Great Depression and into the 1940s.  In 1946, he died of blood poisoning from an untreated boil.

The last time we heard from ol’ Riley Puckett was when we heard him sing one of his most popular and well remembered songs, Ragged but Right.  Now, here’s another of his records that is a little more obscure.

Columbia 15324-D was recorded October 22 and 23, 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia by Riley Puckett.

Last time we heard Kelly Harrell’s “Away Out On the Mountain”, it was sung by Jimmie Rodgers.  As much as I like Jimmie, I think Riley does excellent work with this song too.

Away Out On the Mountain, recorded

Away Out On the Mountain, recorded October 22, 1928 by Riley Puckett.

Next up is “The Moonshiner’s Dream”, taking us back to the days of Prohibition.

The Moonshiner's Dream, recorded

The Moonshiner’s Dream, recorded October 23, 1928 by Riley Puckett.